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Is It Dyslexia? How to Test for Dyslexia

Written By Geoff Nixon . December 2, 2022

Tests for Dyslexia and Related Delays

While dyslexia describes an unexpected difficulty with reading, the processing and/or cognitive skill delays that cause dyslexia impact learning and life skills.  Sometimes the difficulty with reading is the first outward sign of a deeper-seated delay.  And so while this article is about tests for dyslexia, assessments you can do to measure if your child is on track or not, it really is about testing for delays that might impact more than just reading.

Looking for Dyslexia Symptoms

Before testing for dyslexia, or getting dyslexia help, make sure of  the symptoms.  Since all children do make progress with their reading, spoken language and listening – the three main places to look for dyslexia symptoms – you need think about age-adjusted symptoms

Here is a dyslexia infographic on dyslexia symptoms by age, which gives you an idea of what to look for – or to test for – at each age bracket.

You can also recognize dyslexia at different ages using a dyslexia symptoms checklist.

Before jumping to any conclusions about dyslexia, you should understand that at least 25% of children do not find reading easy starting out.  Any delay at all in language processing impacts phonological awareness, decoding and reading comprehension.

However, if you child has language delays at an early age and/or had trouble rhymiing at 3 years of age, then your child is at risk for dyslexia.  You need to be more vigilant. If no language issues are present, then you should be willing your child more time to come to grips with reading before getting into testing for dyslexia.

Before School

Dyslexia can’t really be properly diagnosed until a child is 7 or 8 at the earliest, as that is about the age children are able to start decoding with fluency.  However, you need to know that dyslexia is almost always caused by language processing delays and so prior to school, language difficulties are a huge tell.

Here’s a guide to early detection of dyslexia and reading delays.  Spoiler alert, difficulty rhyming at 3-4 years of age is a famous predictor of dyslexia and future reading delays.

School-Age Children

Teachers have a clear advantage when it comes to noticing a late learner more readily than parents. Experience gives them the edge. That’s why testing and diagnoses often occur later in a child’s young life. Typical signs include trouble reading and remembering. Confusion, problems with spelling, and the correct pronunciation of words and sounds are often evident.

Children may show psychological symptoms or complications from these difficulties. They may withdraw, especially if classroom activities involve reading. Children don’t want to feel different than their peers. An undiagnosed case of dyslexia can set the stage for other issues, such as behavioral problems or low self-esteem. Interestingly, children with food allergies or intolerance often show similar signs.

Workup and Tests

Learning disorders can present in different ways. A workup by a speech pathologist can help you know where to look for signs of a delay not correcting.  Be careful thought. These evaluations can be scary, often listing a bunch of different apparent delays that really all have one source.   If you want your child to get help at school though, in particular an IEP that really can be a big help, these evaluations will be a necessary first step.

Specific tests for dyslexia focus on identifying what skills are showing signs of delay. Evaluations doctors often use include:

  • Rapid Automatic Naming/Rapid Automatic Stimulus (RAN/RAS)
  • Gray Oral and Silent Reading Tests (GORT-5, GSRT) for fluency and comprehension
  • Test of Word Reading Efficiency-2 (TOWRE-2) or decoding
  • Phonological awareness testing

Rapid Automatic Naming/Rapid Automatic Stimulus (RAN/RAS)

This test involves the use of cards where a child is tasked to identify what they see. Its value is in its speed and the wealth of information it provides. It’s an excellent measure of a patient’s ability to recall concepts and long-term memory. It also assesses accuracy. Its other strength is that it makes this screening fun and more like a game.

Silent Reading Tests (Woodcock Johnson, and Gray Oral Reading Test)

These two tests help a specialist determine how well a child can read and comprehend what they’re saying. Using open-ended questions allows the doctor to evaluate whether the patient is merely answering what’s expected or memorized. It’s especially effective for use with older children.

Here is a good article on what these dyslexia tests measure and what they don’t.

Test of Word Reading Efficiency-2 (TOWRE-2)

This test evaluates how well a child processes words and sounds, using real and fake ones. Pronunciation problems are often a telltale sign in some patients. Using fake words is an excellent way to determine if it’s an issue with the child. You’ll often see this ability called decoding since it involves matching sounds with what the patient sees.  More on the TOWRE-@ here.

Phonological Awareness – Testing

This test delves further into a child’s ability to process sounds and their reading ability. It is often diagnostic of dyslexia. It focuses on the patient’s recognition of syllables of common words.

Doctors have other tools to gauge a child’s status. The difficulty of the tests is age-dependent, allowing diagnosis of older children and teens. Physicians typically use a suite of assessments to compensate for the strengths and weaknesses of each test.

Note, Gemm Learning provides a free online reading assessment (RPI) that correlates with a number of national reading and dyslexia tests, most notably Woodcock Johnson.  Here is a summary. of correlations. The test has four parts, all age-appropriate:

  • Phonological Awareness
  • Decoding
  • Vocabulary
  • Reading Comprehension

Request a free online test here.

Other Testing Options

Research is ongoing on other ways to test for dyslexia. For example, German scientists are investigating using genetic testing because of its strong influence coupled with electroencephalograms (EEGs) as an early screening regime. Parental acceptance of this type of assessment supports its continued development. The value of this method is that it can lead to earlier diagnoses and interventions.

One outcome parents often see in dyslexic children is a withdrawal from reading and being replaced by video. This fact prompted researchers to evaluate the efficacy of using a gamified version of a screening test. Their testing of more than 3,600 participants resulted in an 80-percent success rate, opening another avenue for early detection.

Final Thoughts

Reading is a fundamental skill critical for navigating our increasingly complicated world. That means dyslexia needs to be addressed.  Fortunately, medical advances and research into neuroscience have provided new insights into ways to treat the underlying learning disorders that cause dyslexia. Gemm Learning provides dyslexia treatment at home using Fast ForWord software.

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